What kind of house has no walls, no doors, and no roof, but restricts the speech of those who dwell within it? Apparently Millennium Park, which Chicago authorities have recently divided into “rooms” to suppress free expression.

On March 17, a student from Wheaton College made efforts to spread the gospel in Millennium Park while standing near Cloud Gate (commonly known as The Bean) by respectfully speaking about Jesus and distributing free religious literature. The student peacefully interacted with other park visitors without causing a disruption, but they were stopped by a park authority that claimed it was against the rules and forced the student to leave.

Very shortly after this incident, specific provisions in the Millennium Park Rules were put into effect, targeting the rights of all those who wish to speak freely in Millennium Park. How are the Park authorities able to effectively and “legally” prohibit free speech? By enforcing three specific rules, added on April 2, which we believe are unconstitutional:

The Rules:

1. “Millennium Park is divided into several outdoor ‘rooms,’ each with its own purpose or art…The making of speeches and the passing out of written communications shall be restricted to Wrigley Square and Millennium Monument and the sidewalks…”

One of the reasons public parks are so inviting is because they are open outdoor spaces where anyone is welcome, people can gather, and thoughts and ideas can be freely exchanged. Parks differ from other public buildings in that they are NOT sectioned off to exclude anyone who wishes to speak or listen freely.

2. “Any displays, speeches, or demonstrations on Park property must be approved by DCASE and Park Management, which may impose reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions and may require a permit.”

In this rule the Park authorities have taken away the quintessential aspects that make speech “free” by adding stipulations that unnecessarily burden the speakers. By acting as gatekeepers, they apply their own bias to decide who gets to be heard.

3. “Any conduct even if not specifically noted by these rules, is prohibited in the Park if it interferes with or disrupts another visitor’s peaceful enjoyment of a performance or amenity in the Park…”

Under this current language, one could pose a “hecklers veto” to prohibit visitors from discussing anything deemed offensive, such as discussing politics in Millennium Park for fear that their verbalized stance might offend and disrupt another visitor’s peaceful enjoyment of amenities nearby if they were to overhear.

According to attorney John Mauck, “Irritation or annoyance of some opinionated minority is unavoidable in public spaces and is never enough to prohibit someone from exercising their First Amendment rights…And given the size of Millennium Park, a few people speaking and handing out free literature with a 30 foot radius or moving radius disrupts very little. People can ignore the speaker, refuse the literature or walk away.”

We are asking Chicago park officials to change or remove specific wording in their rules that impede the expression of free speech. If they are unwilling to do this, Mauck & Baker plans to file a First Amendment rights claim in federal court for facial unconstitutionality of the Millennium park ordinance on behalf of the Wheaton College evangelists and any others whose freedom is being restricted.

Stay tuned and please pray, as we are preparing to litigate if this hindrance to free speech is not resolved soon.

For now you could say free speech in Millennium Park is “bean” suppressed.